This month saw the re-release on dvd of the motion picture Electric Dreams, made famous not at least thanks to the Oakey/Moroder penned theme song. The movies director Steve Barron first made his name in the music video business directing groundbreaking videos for all the big pop stars of the early 80s including Michael Jackson, A-ha, Madonna, Paul McCartney and off course The Human League. So I caught up with him to ask a few posing questions about the bulk of work he did for the band and his debut as film director.
Interview by Niels Kolling
First of all, what was your own career path in becoming heavily involved in the music business as a sought after video director?
I was a camera assistant in London in my teens. I worked on the first superman movie and would check out bands at the Marquee and Dingwalls in the evening.
I met some people in the music world who knew some people that knew some other people in record companies that had money to do promotional films for groups. Luckily those people didn't ask whether I was directing Superman or making the tea because I was actually making the tea.
As I understand, the first video you directed for The Human League was Donít You Want Me. Even if Love Action (I Believe In Love) was released prior in Europe, the video for that wasnít made until 1982 for the American market? So how did it come about that you were chosen to direct Donít You Want Me?
I was doing videos and the record company was into some of them. I think they had seen Adam & the Ants 'Antmusic'.
How much knowledge did you have of their music before you started working with them? Would you label yourself a fan?
I hadn't heard their music before I got the song so I wasn't a fan. I can't remember my first reaction to the song. I think I found the lyrics slightly embarrassing and 'American' at the time. I became a big fan.
The video for Donít You Want Me is still played heavily on todays music TV channels and was in some ways groundbreaking with itís ďfilm in a filmĒ score. What were you ambitions for the video?
I was very excited about having a big enough budget to use 35mm film (£15,000). Until then nobody could afford 35mm for the videos. I thought this one should feel like the movies - it sounded like a movie, night exteriors and narrative intrigue.
I really fancied a girl who was an assistant editor and I had seen a Truffaut film called Day for Night and wanted to go one step further and try and make a film within a film within a film.
Were the band involved in the process or was it entirely your own script?
I wrote a treatment which the band approved. We paid homage to the Truffaut film on the clapper board in one scene.
The single was a gigantic hit not at least thanks to the video and really put the band on the map along with the Dare album. Did you feel any preassure making the follow up as the expectations must have been huge?
Definite pressure on the next video, not least because Michael Jackson had seen and liked 'Don't You Want Me Baby' and got me to make 'Billie Jean' in between.
Found it much harder to do the concept for the next one. Coming up with concepts that could give the band some kind of shared screen time was never straight forward. It often became a political shuffle and a a compromise.
The videos for Donít You Want Me and Love Action (I Believe In Love) also promoted the Dare album, which became a key release in the history of electronic pop. Did you at the time sense that the band were on to something special?
It felt like a 'fork in the road ' moment. It felt like this album was going to wrestle with the mainstream and stir things up.
The album was supported by a very successful tour. Did you attend the
Dare Tour, and if you did, what did you think of it and do you know if
there was ever talk of filming the show?
You know, I never saw the band live. Maybe one day. Nobody mentioned filming the show.
You went on to direct (Keep Feeling) Fascination and Louise which both went Top 15 in the UK singles charts. In the 80s the video was an important part of the promotion, so it must have been satisfying seeing your work help to such high chart positions?
(Keep Feeling) Fascination and Louise were the most fun to do.
I am still banned from the London Borough of Peckham to this day for not being able to remove the red paint from the street.
You made the logical step of directing movies and has become a successful movie director. First one was Electric Dreams in 1984 with the theme tune written by Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder. Was that a result of you working with The Human League ? And the title and plot of the film almost required that it was an electronic sounding theme song?
Yeah. Giorgio Moroder was hired as composer and played me a demo track he thought would be good for the movie. It was the tune of Together In Electric Dreams but with some temporary lyrics sung by someone who sounded like a cheesy version of Neil Diamond.
Giorgio was insisting the song could be a hit so I thought I'd suggest someone to sing who would be as far from a cheesy Neil Diamond as one could possibly go. Phil Oakey.
We then got Phil in who wrote some new lyrics on the back of a fag packet on the way to the recording studio and did two takes which Giorgio was well pleased with and everybody went home happy.
According to www.cinematical.com there are plans to do a remake of the movie. What is your view of that?
I think if its handled right it could be a very good re-make.
Will you be involved in some way?
Virginia Madsen called to tell me about it some months ago. She didn't ask me to do it so I guess I blew my chance on the first one! I wouldn't actually do it but it would have been nice for the ego to be asked.
Itís been a while since youíve done a music video. If all goes well, The Human League should have a new album out this year. Could you see yourself returning to the music business and work with the band again, either a promo video, documentary or live dvd?
I haven't done a video for 15 years and my heart is in drama long form but I do miss working with visuals to music. If I was asked I would seriously consider. The band's music has always had a strong cinematic ring to it.
How do you look at the bulk of work you did for the band? Has it stood the test of time?
I'm pleased with the work in general. Love Action (I Believe In Love) didn't come off exactly how I wanted.
What is your favourite Human League video?
I'm most proud of (Keep Feeling) Fascination.
The music business has changed beyond recognition in the last decade. So how do you look at the music video media today as compared to when you worked with it?
I think itís sadly very different now. In the eighties we all had the feeling we were doing stuff that no-one had done before. Now it seems that everything must 'look' like a video. There is tons of repeating and impersonating.
Having said that I've seen some really cool very low budget videos coming out of the states. In particular Encyclopedia Pictura.
Favourite Human League album, single and song?
Mirror Man is the one that makes me want to get up and dance (not a pretty sight). I've come to really love 'Circus of Death'.
What are the future plans for Steve Barron?
I'm working with Harland Miller on his brilliant 'Slow Down Arthur Stick To Thirty' novel which we are adapting into a movie. In fact we're considering 'Circus Of Death' which would be great to use for a part of the film if the boys will let us use it! We hope to be shooting in Yorkshire late next year, early 2010.
You can follow Steve Barrons future projects here:
And you can buy the dvd-release of Electric Dreams here: